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Serena set for No.1 spot as Safina and Venus fall

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:46

Dinara Safina left the court in tears after falling in the second round of the China Open, losing to world No.226 Zhang Shuai 7-5 7-6(5) and all but giving up her grasp on the world No.1 ranking.

The Russian hit 13 double faults during the encounter against the local wildcard in Beijing, one more than Venus Williams, who also crashed out 3-6 6-1 6-4 to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

It is a week since both crashed out of the Japan Open in Tokyo in the second round, when Williams also lost to Pavlyuchenkova.

For Safina, defeat at the Olympic Tennis Center where she claimed the silver medal a year ago marks the likely end of her ill-fated reign as world No.1.

Should Serena Williams beat Ekaterina Makarova in her second round match in Beijing, the eleven-time grand slam champion will return to the top of the women’s game for the first time since Safina took over top spot from her in April.

Safina has struggled in recent weeks, but after a convincing win over Roberta Vinci in Sunday’s first round she looked to have made a good start, going an early break up in the opening set against her 20-year-old opponent.

But crowd favourite Zhang, cheered to the rafters by the home fans, hit back to claim the opener as service errors blighted the Russian’s game.

The second set saw a string of dropped service games, with 23-year-old Safina unable to consolidate either break as she struggled with her own delivery.

Zhang failed while trying to serve out the match at 5-4 as Safina battled back to force a tiebreak. But the Russian was helpless when, having saved one match point at 6-4 with a thumping forehand, Zhang secured victory on the next point with a fine shot down the line.

The Russian followed Venus out of the tournament as the American lost for the second successive week to Russian teenager Pavlyuchenkova.

The nine-time grand slam champ was beaten by the 18-year-old in Tokyo last week and succumbed to a 3-6 6-1 6-4 defeat this time around.

Pavlyuchenkova had to serve twice for victory, but made no mistake at the second attempt, closing it out with a forehand winner.

Elsewhere, No.6 seed and latest Doha qualifier Svetlana Kuznetsova cruised into the third round with a 6-2 6-1 victory over Anabel Medina Garrigues, while Aleksandra Wozniak and Alona Bondarenko also made progress.

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